Talking About ADHD

10 Cherished Films with Neurodivergent Characters

Fact: Neurodivergent characters make movies more interesting. From the funny (“Finding Dory”) to the action-packed (“Percy Jackson”) to the sensory stimulating (“Everything Everywhere All At Once”), here are ADDitude readers’ favorite films that depict characters with ADHD, autism, and other differences.

Everything Everywhere All at Once
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“Everything Everywhere All At Once”

The title of this free-wheeling, absurdist action adventure film says it all. The movie is a wild ride through the multiverse, tearing across time and space as it explores the complexities of family, the immigrant experience, and what it’s like to be a human today. Michelle Yeoh plays Evelyn, a beleaguered laundromat owner and mother who finds herself dropped into the role of unlikely hero, charged with battling a bizarre cast of characters to save the world.

One of the film’s directors, Daniel Kwan, has talked about how, in the process of researching ADHD as background for Evelyn’s character, he realized he has ADHD himself. The movie is, in many ways, a celebration of the ADHD brain, in all its crowded, colorful glory.

Readers say:

“It's a very interesting representation of ADHD for women that delves into our struggles in a unique way. It has some unexpected, insightful and extremely relatable scenes.” —Lisa, Arizona

“The Daniels' representation of the multiverses resonates with how I play out different decisions in my life — but with more action and ridiculousness.” — Catherine, Canada

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“Finding Dory”

Dory’s charm, humor, and optimism — “Just keep swimming!” — so captured the hearts of moviegoers in Finding Nemo that Pixar centered the movie’s sequel around her. In it, Dory embarks on a journey to find the parents from whom she was separated years before, a mission complicated by her short-term memory loss. Along the way, she meets a cast of hilarious, heart-warming aquatic characters, many of whom have disabilities, and she learns to view her memory loss not as a liability but as a difference — a meaningful message for many neurodivergent audience members.

Readers say:

“Dory has always resonated with our three unique and complex neurodivergent kids — we finally felt a little bit of accurate representation.”  — Harmony, New Hampshire

[Read: 10 Book Characters Who Remind Us of Someone]

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“Temple Grandin”

Claire Danes brings to life the empowering story of Temple Grandin in this biopic about the acclaimed scientist and animal advocate. Grandin, diagnosed with autism as a child, used her unique perspective to develop more humane cattle handling practices, changing the standard of livestock handling. Her narrative of perseverance against considerable sexism and ableism is an uplifting representation of neurodivergent thinkers, and their potential to change the world.

Readers say:

“I teach students with learning differences (ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia) and they have responded strongly to her story.” — An ADDitude Reader

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“Silver Linings Playbook”

An all-star cast lights up the screen with this funny and moving love story following Pat (Bradley Cooper), a man with bipolar disorder who moves in with his mother and father (Robert DeNiro) after being released from a psychiatric hospital. Enter Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow who asks Pat to be her partner for an upcoming dance competition. The two strangers, each laden with more than their fair share of baggage, become close as they train for the competition, and the complexities of their relationship resonate with many neurodivergent viewers.

Readers say:

“It shows a lot of mental distress but is light and hopeful at the same time.” —Tonya, Alabama

[10 Film Characters We Love]

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“Like Stars on Earth”

School is a constant challenge for 8-year-old Ishaan, widely considered a troublemaker. When he’s sent to boarding school, though, he meets a kind, dedicated art teacher who understands that Ishaan would do well if he could, and sets out to discover what’s keeping him from succeeding. The story is achingly familiar to many viewers whose learning differences and neurodivergence were left undiagnosed for too long.

Readers say:

“It is beautiful and helps us see that learning differences are a gift, not always a deficit.” — Abby, Michigan

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“Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief”

Director Chris Columbus (of Harry Potter fame) adapted the juggernaut bestseller for the screen, packing in maximum action, adventure, and fantasy fun. At the movie’s start, 16-year-old Percy is floundering, struggling with dyslexia and ADHD at school, and with family relationships at home. Things take a turn when he discovers he’s the son of Poseidon, and that what he always thought of as quirks are actually superpowers that might just save the world.

Readers say:

“Percy having ADHD and dyslexia is something my students can relate to.” — Helen, Canada

[10 Middle-Grade Books with Characters Who Slay]

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“The Disruptors”

The fundamental message of the documentary The Disruptors is reflected in these words from rapper “For kids that have ADHD, there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s something wrong with the world.” The documentary dives into the daily lives of five different households with kids who have ADHD, exploring the realities — both challenging and joyful — of parenting neurodivergent children. It’s something the director, Nancy Armstrong, knows well as the parent of children with ADHD. Along the way, there are appearances from many celebrities with ADHD, including Terry Bradshaw, Howie Mandel, and Paris Hilton, as well as interviews with leading experts from Russell Barkley, Ph.D., to Ned Hallowell, M.D.

Readers say:

“It shows successful people with ADHD, and current brain research on ADHD and on medications. Also, it was clearly produced in a way to maintain the interest of the ADHD mind.” — Kim, California

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“Infinitely Polar Bear”

Based on the childhood experiences of filmmaker Maya Forbes, Infinitely Polar Bear follows Cam, a father with bipolar disease, trying to repair his relationship with his two daughters. Not long after being released from a hospital for a manic breakdown, Cam becomes the primary caregiver for his daughters, while his wife completes her MBA in another city. What follows is a journey of trial and error, plenty of laughs, and maybe some tears, too, as the film explores the many ways bipolar disorder can impact a family.

Readers say:

“A beautiful movie showing the struggles of a person living with bipolar disorder, and his family.” — Nat, Australia

[How 'Frozen' Gave My Daughter Hope]

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The whimsical world of Amélie and its charming, quirky, and totally lovable protagonist took the world by storm when it was released in 2001. In it, a shy young woman living in Paris finds the cure for her isolation when she hatches schemes to improve the lives of people in her community, anonymously. While it’s never stated that Amélie is neurodivergent, since the movie’s release many audience-goers have theorized that her sensory hyper-sensitivities and difficulty with social cues suggest she may be neurodiverse.

Readers say:

“It's the best depiction of the inside of my ADHD brain and my internal monologues and mental rabbit-hole-exploring.” — Claudia

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Robin Williams portrays the quintessential absent-minded professor in this sci-fi action adventure film about a mad scientist, Phillip Brainard, who invents a new super-bouncy, uber-rubbery compound called Flubber. The movie doesn’t explicitly state that Brainard has ADHD, but his character, who forgets his wedding three times because of his hyperfocus on his research, exhibits many classic symptoms of ADHD in a way that is both funny and endearing.

Readers say:

“Robin Williams is all over the place and makes me laugh and feel that I'm not the only one like that.” — Stephen, Maine

Neurodivergent Characters: Next Steps

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